Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Run with the speed of gazelles...

You will soar as the falcon soars. . .

A while back, Americo commented, "I found your blog by accident. But I have to say, if that's you dressed up as Isis. NICE!!!"

Alas, no. That is JoAnna Cameron, in her get-up as ISIS! I guess Americo (and maybe others of you?) did not watch the Shazam and Isis Hour.

But this comment reminds me of a note that Tim sent recently, announcing the release of the entirety of The Secrets of Isis to DVD. Hot damn!

Something completely different.

Kudos to Scott, for ignoring the Foxy Asso, and going straight for the good stuff. He wrote: And now for something completely different. I stumbled across the 2nd place winner of 2006's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (for the worst unpublished opening sentence written in English during the year) and thought you might enjoy it. The winner was Stuart Vasepuru of Edinburgh, Scotland who won with the submission of
"I know what you're thinking, punk," hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, "you're thinking, 'Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?' - and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel loquacious?' - well do you, punk?"

Is being an editor as exciting as it sounds?

Well, Scott, I am glad you asked!

First I should clarify, because I think I have been playing fast and loose with clarity. Sometimes I am an editor, and that can be distinctly unexciting. I am not really the kind of editor that appears in that story, but rather the kind who takes a text but some already acceptable person and makes it more available. The project that I was bemoaning here, here, here, here, here, and here will be published next March, so they say (though they misspelled my first name, dammit).
But other times I am more like Wordy Harry (not as hard-boiled, but still wordy as hell!), and this is one of those times. So, Scott, let me reframe your question to be, "Is being a writer as exciting as it sounds?"

Here is a profile of a fantastic writing day:
4:00 a.m. Wake up, go to the bathroom, try to go back to bed, count backwards in Italian, and finally find that I am not falling asleep because there are mad thoughts churning in my brain so I might as well get up.
4:15 a.m. Turn on the computer, wipe the sleep from the eyes, and try to get adjusted to the lights. Convince the cats that I did not get up to feed them.
4:30 a.m. Read other people's blogs for a while and see if anyone other than spam generators has sent me any e-mail.
5:00 a.m. Get down to work: this requires music of course, and what is better than Bach's Art of the Fugue or the new Vivaldi choral music I bought in Venice, or maybe Beethoven's Diabelli Variations or some late string quartets. The important thing here is that the music be complicated enough to engage the mathematical part of my brain and free up the creative and analytical parts to write.
6:00 a.m. Grunt approvingly at the PP as he brings me a giant cup of coffee.
7:45 a.m. Grunt at the PP as he leaves for work.
9:30 a.m. Realize I have not had breakfast, so go into the kitchen and make some and then stuff it down my maw and hurry back to my desk.
2:30 p.m. Can I be hungry again? Scrounge some lunch.
4:30 p.m. Realize I am getting dopey, so move away from the computer and read someone else's book for a change.
5:30 p.m. Greet the PP when he gets home from work and try to come back to planet earth.

Now you will notice that that timeline says very little about writing itself. That is because that part, the actual writing part, is a mystery. There is something that can happen then (on the good days), and if I let it happen it is almost a kind of ecstasy. Athletes out there would be tempted to call it being in the zone, and I suppose in a way it is, but the only sort of: there is a sense of letting one's work-a-day self go, letting worldly concerns go, and even (ideally!) letting anxieties and insecurities go, in order to let the words come. Come on, words! And bring some thoughts with you!

In this state I might fly from working through a translation of an essay to checking up on some information, to meandering through other parts of whatever I consulted to check that information, to going off on some random tangent, to coming back to the translation, to analyzing the essay I have translated, to making a surprising connection to that random tangent from earlier, to discovering that something I had thought was not going to matter matters tremendously, to realizing that the person in one part of my chapter is not the same one as another part, to figuring out how to rectify that problem, to launching into a massive description of something I had seen a few years ago in a site-visit, and on, and on.

Writing for me is about letting my mind spread out, about letting go of whether or not I am sure that what I am trying to do is going to work and just trusting it. It is about loving what I am studying, and loving what I am saying. Gertrude Stein says that the purpose of poetry is to find a way back to the “thrill” that names hold when first learned, now that “the name of that thing of that anything is no longer anything to thrill any one except children.” I do not write poetry, but even in the world of scholarly writing, we have to find our way back to that thrill--or else who would want to read what we write? Trusting your material and trusting yourself to be thrilling--what a leap of faith!

Before I know it, my desk is stacked perilously with opened books and there are piles of other books and xeroxes all over my study. Before I know it it is 5:30 at night and I do not know where I was all day.

Sometimes when the PP comes home at 5:30, I just cannot bring myself back to the modern moment. Sometimes I look at him like I looked around the house when I was first back from Italy, and had woken up from a nap, and was utterly confused to be in my own living room. Sometimes I have to ask him to repeat what he just said because it seems like he is speaking in a foreign language, or about people I have never met, or I have no idea what he does for a living. And luckily for me, he forgives me for this, because I am not always like this and he knows how much I love to write. This is one of many reasons we call him the Patient Partner.

So to come back to the question: is being a writer as exciting as it sounds? It is, Scott, one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Enjoy the Silence.

My apologies for infrequent posts of late--but they are insincere, because I fear my behavior will not change immediately.

This is only partly because I am so depressed that everyone is dropping or being kicked out of the Tour de France. (This year makes 1998 look ho-hum!)

(Side note: the PP suggested the other night that we start our own cycling team. We deliberated a bit about who might be willing to sponsor us. Thanks to the like of Predictor Lotto and Barloworld [Barloworld? Are you serious???] our thoughts went quickly to the names of French and Italian companies that use English in their names. Like "Glove Planet," a shop in Rome [and I am not making that up, though I would like to be the first American to land there], and "Boy Diffusion," a shop in Albi, France. And an advertisement on Italian TV for "BIMBO BIMBO BIMBO SHOES!" [Additional note: Bimbo in Italian = baby, which is why sometimes you see cars with stickers reading "Bimbo a borda." MAN! Did I want to buy a stack of those to bring home with me, or what??] But it was the PP who cinched it, by saying "Foxy Asso."

[photo lifted from here.]

If you have never shopped for paper towels in an Italian supermercato, then you may never have encountered the Foxy Asso, but I tell you: it rocks. And now it is our sponsor. Team Foxy Asso. Wanna join?)

But back to the reasons for infrequent posting. Mostly it is because I am writing something else, and loving it. Yes, this is what I would call "work," but damn, I love my job.

So sometime in the not too distant I'll have something to say here--and maybe here or there I'll interject something briefly, just to keep you guessing--but until then, enjoy yourselves.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Brother Vinokourov.

A friend recently commented that she was not sure who to root for in the Tour de France, in these post-Lance years. This was after Christophe Moreau had kind of dropped back, so even her Franco-philia would not provide the answer.

I had a look at the standings and came up with this list of options:

1. Big George H., although he is not set up to win, and I don't think Levi will either, although he may do OK.
2. Vinokourov and his scraped up knees, because Astana really did put the hurt down last night, and I think he could pull it together.
3. Poor Christophe Moreau, because he is French, but he seems to be out, too.
4. Rasmussen, if he does not waste away first, because there is nothing like a.... Oh never mind.
5. The Belgian Tom Boonen, because even after his wreck yesterday he kicked butt today, AND Belgium makes great beer.
6. Alberto Contador, because even though he is Spanish he rides for Discovery.
7. Andreas Kloeden, also Astana, who is supposed to be pulling Vino, but seems to be doing well in his own right.
8. Kim Kirchen because he is from Luxembourg, for God's sake.
9. Thor Hushovd because his first name is Thor.
10. A whole bunch of Spaniards.

But then this afternoon, as the PP and I sat down to watch today's time trial, I said to him, "I think from now on I am pulling for Alexandre Vinokourov." There were good reasons for that. First, I knew that he had been hurt in an early stage, and although I had not seen the big crash (I have since, since it provides such spectacular footage), I did watch a medic in the Astana team car replacing the bandages on both his knees the other night, and that was amazing. It turns out the man is riding with 60+ stitches in his body. As someone who recently had a few stitches in her shoulder, and who was mostly sitting around afterwards as a result, I can say, that is a shitload of stitches!

Second, his team is unbelievable. Did you see Astana put the hurt on the peloton during Thursday's stage? It was a flattish stage, and apparently there were serious crosswinds, which they took serious advantage of. I think at that moment, everyone in the peloton would have been happy never to see light blue again.

Third, he has the yellowist sunglasses in all of cycling.

Then there is this photo:

It comes from Vino's own website (taken by Tim de Waele) and it gives you some idea of all his bandages. But what I noticed right away, and what secured my choice to pull for him, was that little netting he is wearing on his right arm, to protect his elbow bandage. You see, during my little love affair with the PICC line, I had to keep the whole apparatus enclosed in this little mesh sheath, so that all the piping and so forth would not get stuck on stuff or get yanked out accidentally. In other words, I felt just a little connection to this Khazakh, even though I know that there is really no comparison between my fitness level and his. (Or my leg strength. Or my speed on a bike. Or, OK I'll stop there.)
So Vinokourov is now my man. His time trial today, through the streets around Albi, was pretty amazing, too, so I think that bodes well for my choice. (And did you notice that Astana had 3 of the top 4 riders?) Besides, watching someone have such a horrible crash, keep going, ride hard with his team once he is just the tiniest bit recovered, and then pull out such a performance today at Albi? Inspirational.

Go go Vino!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


You may recall that earlier in the summer, I did a little "coaching." This consisted of about seven hour-long clinics that the coaches from my swimteam put on for kids in the city's summer league swim program. My little niche was streamlines and breaststroke pullouts. In any given clinic, the kids were split into four groups, and each group got about fifteen minutes with each coach (or in my case, "coach").

The whole experience brought me right back to my swimming youth, since it was summer-league swimming that got me hooked on the sport. Unlike a lot of Masters swimmers, I was not really a year-round age-group swimmer (except for one year, and even that was only done in service of making me faster the next summer). At the time, I was not cut out for that much swimming in my life, but I always loved it when summer came around, and for months at a time I could live at Colony Pool.

[Isis taking full advantage of training equipment, c. 1988]

The kids you see on these teams were pretty much like any group of kids. There are some of them who cannot let pass any opportunity to grab another swimmer's leg, or mess with them while they are trying to work on their streamlines. There are some who never listen and then always ask, "What are we doing?" There are others who cannot get the hang of blowing out through their nose. There are the budding Jacques Cousteaux who try on each underwater pullout to break the world record for greatest distance traveled without breathing. There are those who hang on your every word because they want to be the best streamliner evar. And there are always those who really seem to have some skills, who might have a future in the sport.

[These are probably not the two who have a future in swimming....]

But my very favorite thing about summer-league kids (and this was true back in the 1980s, too), is that for some reason, unlike their USA Swimming counterparts, they do not call butterfly "fly"--they call it "butter." "Do we get to swim butter now?" they ask. "I can't swim butter," they warn me before I have even told them what we are doing.

It's a great image, isn't it, swimming butter?

Well, true to my summer-league roots, I can now announce (picture me jumping up and down) that last night I swam some butter. Our pool is temporary back in its short-course configuration (we are hosting the summer-league championships this weekend), so practice was in 25-yard format. We had an open warm-up, so I decided that this was the time for me to try to swim a little butterfly, since I did not have an entire 50-meter lane looming before me. (And let me tell you: nothing looks shorter than a 25-yard lane when you see it for the first time after long-course season. It felt pretty good! The recovery was not a problem at all, and I think that is an indication of how much my mobility has come back. I could definitely feel my diminished strength during the pull phase of the stroke, but still.

And because he always chooses to show up for these momentous occasions, my shoulder doctor was at the pool again, this time not swimming but there with his 11-year-old daughter, who was practicing with her summer-league team for this weekend's championships.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

There is nothing like a Dane.

So the PP and I just spent the morning sitting on the couch. I was mostly knitting, starting around 7:30 a.m., and finishing up about 11:50. The PP had already been sitting there for half an hour when I joined him (which means I am making progress on my jetlag--I slept until 7:30--woohoo!). Several cups of coffee, an entire sleeve, and part of another project later, I laid my needles down, exhausted. What a morning!

But the really amazing part is that the reason we were sitting on the couch was to watch the crazy people competing in the Tour de France, who for that entire time were riding their bikes. Hard. In the Alps. I.e., Michael Rasmussen has better endurance on his bike than I do knitting.

Not that that makes me feel bad or anything.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


17thman posted today about his region's top ten list, and that made me wonder if the Dixie Zone had posted theirs for the SCY and SCM seasons. They had the SCY and also last year's LCM, but no SCM (too short a season?) Then I was wondering whether any of the very few times I had for this year's season might have put me into the ranking. They had! Of course, this only seems to be so because Dara Torres and Sheila Taormina were not racing in the breaststroke events. Looking at the times in those lists makes me hungry: how much time could I drop, if I can get back in shape?

It was interesting being at the meet this weekend, but not swimming. I enjoyed it--and watching my training partners race--but I was sad, too, for the obvious reasons. That energized me to have good practices on Monday night and Tuesday morning--or as good as can be expected after two weeks (of eating Italian food and drinking Italian wine...) away, after the rocky spring I had.

I am starting to scope out meets for the fall. There is one in Asheville in mid-September that I think will be my first--just to see how things are going. My coach said, "Don't expect any world record performances!" Don't worry. I am thinking I will need to enter with nonce times, a bit slower than my actual recent times, so that I do not lose every heat I swim. The goal here is to gain a little confidence back, right? Then there is a meet in Columbia in early November (date not posted yet), and one in Atlanta in mid-November, and I expect the usual mid-December meet in Atlanta. By then, one of my blog-buddies might even be racing down south--how cool is that?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Forgive the Jet-lagged.

I know, I am not supposed to be using my computer when I wake up in the middle of the night, but after lying there for a while realizing a better way to start my new chapter, I had to get up and just do it. And after that, why, the computer is on, isn't it?

Does it happen to you, when you return home after a lot of travel, that when you wake up in the middle of the night you do not recognize your own room? Last night, my first night back, I was sure that for some reason I was sleeping in a bedroom in a palace. Perhaps this is partly a reflection on the size of my recent hotel rooms, but still.

Vow: tomorrow I will try harder to get over this jetlag. Granted, I stayed up until about 10 on Saturday night, after flying home. Then I woke up at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday (good morning! to my body it was 10:30 a.m.). Then the PP swam (count them) seven events in his second day of a swim meet (including the 400 IM and the 800 free--go PP!), and I worked as a timer. Did you know that standing on concrete with a stopwatch for 5 hours will really wipe you out?

So when he suggested an early "dinner" (i.e. at 4 p.m.), how could I refuse? But I should have, because by 6 p.m., when we were watching Shaolin Soccer on TV, I just could not make it any longer. After a few pages of my latest mystery novel, I was out.

To me it looked like the clock said 5:38 a.m., and I thought, Cool, I might as well get up. Too bad it really said 2:38. But as I said: I needed to do that writing.

Now it is done, and I'm going to take another stab at sleep. Perhaps later I will tell you something about Italy.